Feature

APA has named longtime practitioner and psychology leader Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, its new executive director for professional practice. On April 21, she will fill the chair previously occupied by Russ Newman, PhD, JD, who left APA in December to became provost and vice president for academic affairs at Alliant International University. Newman served as executive director for professional practice for 14 years.

Nordal will run APA's Practice Directorate, which manages a broad range of policy, marketplace and public education activities in support of practicing psychologists and consumers of psychological services. She'll also head the APA Practice Organization, a 501(c)(6) affiliate of APA, which engages in legislative advocacy, legal, regulatory and other activities on behalf of practitioners, including the development of business of practice products and services for practicing psychologists.

APA selected Nordal for her impressive breadth of practice and public policy experience and her success in previous leadership roles with APA and the Mississippi Psychological Association (MPA), says APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD.

"Dr. Nordal's experiences on Capitol Hill and with state legislatures, along with her leadership in APA governance, have given her keen insight into the many legal, regulatory, legislative and marketplace issues in the field," says Anderson. "Her well-rounded professional background, and her passion for and optimism about psychology and psychological practice, will serve her well in this important position."

Past chair of APA's Board of Professional Affairs Jennifer Kelly, PhD, agrees, noting that Nordal's extensive career in advocacy and professional practice have provided her with a broad scope of knowledge when it comes to understanding the challenges psychologists face today.

"Dr. Nordal is a slam dunk for this position," Kelly says.

Bitten by the advocacy bug

Nordal was tapped to lead the Practice Directorate after a nearly three- decades-long career in the delivery of psychological services in both private and institutional settings, and for the past three years, she has served as chair of the APA Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP).

She earned her doctorate from the University of Mississippi in 1976 and began her psychology career as the director of child and adolescent services in a community mental health center program covering rural Mississippi counties and based in Vicksburg, Miss. Since 1980, Nordal has been the managing partner of an independent practice group with locations in Vicksburg and Jackson, Miss., where she specializes in treating learning, behavioral, brain injury, health-related and emotional disorders in children, adolescents and adults. She also provides independent medical evaluations for personal injury litigation and disability cases, as well as business and injury fitness-for-duty consultations.

Nordal has also played an active role-encouraged early on, she says, by her graduate school professors-in the public policy arena and within APA and state association governance. In 1990, she was the first independent practitioner to serve as an APA congressional fellow, where she worked in the office of Rep. Mike Espy (D-Miss.) and with the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Hunger.

"Once I was bitten by the advocacy bug and realized how important it was for psychologists to be involved in ensuring the delivery of mental health services to the clients we serve, it just became natural to become even more involved," Nordal says.

This knack for leadership led Nordal to a number of other roles within APA. She has served on APA's Council of Representatives and Board of Directors and has held leadership positions in a number of APA divisions. She's also a fellow of APA and MPA and served as MPA's president in 1987.

These posts leave her with little free time, but Nordal remains an active member of her community, currently serving on the boards of both the Grace Christian Counseling Center and the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation. She is also an active member of Christ Episcopal Church where she serves as its treasurer and in a variety of lay ministry positions.

Helping practitioners thrive

What can APA members expect as Nordal takes the reins of APA's Practice Directorate?

"Action," says fellow CAPP member Sanford Portnoy, PhD. "Dr. Nordal has a good sense of what needs to be done to help current practitioners thrive and the skills to enable dialogue among all of our various practice communities," says Portnoy. "She accomplished many things during her tenure with CAPP, and I think we can expect the same from her as she takes on this new role with APA."

Nordal says that while she has "a lot of listening to do over the next year," she already has several immediate priorities. One is to advocate for psychologists to become the behavioral health providers of choice--with appropriately trained psychologists given prescriptive authority--as part of an integrated health-care team. She says that, too often, due to economic pressures from insurance companies and other third-party payers, consumers are forced to see social workers or licensed professional counselors for their mental health concerns instead of a psychologist who is better trained in developing a more accurate and effective treatment plan for the patient.

"There's an underappreciation of what psychologists can bring to the health-care arena, at least in the eyes of federal policy stakeholders, and I plan to work very hard to change that," Nordal says.

She'd also like to see the APA Practice Organization create more tools to help psychologists build successful practices. In particular she believes members need more resources on "business of practice" issues, which are often not taught in graduate school.

Nordal officially assumes her role next month, and she couldn't be more eager to start.

"For 28 years, I've been living, sleeping, eating and breathing the life of practice," Nordal says. "The APA executive director of practice position offers so many opportunities and possibilities to advance the professional practice of psychology in all of the venues in which we serve our patients, communities and society at large. I can't think of a better way to spend the next decade-at least-of my professional career."